An­zac spirit in chase for Masters

Upper Hutt Leader - - SPORT - MARK GEENTY

It was the ul­ti­mate show of An­zac spirit on a cold spring week­end in Up­per Hutt.

With beanie firmly ap­plied, Aus­tralia’s top am­a­teur golfer Travis Smyth and his five com­pa­tri­ots got a warm re­cep­tion from their Kiwi mates at Royal Welling­ton.

Next month, the half-dozen Aus­tralians, 10 New Zealan­ders and the best from Ja­pan, China, Korea and Thai­land will tee off at leafy Here­taunga for am­a­teur golf’s big­gest prize: direct en­try to next year’s Masters Tour­na­ment at Au­gusta and the Open Cham­pi­onship at Carnoustie.

Smyth, 22, is ranked 15th in the world, was a US Am­a­teur quar­ter­fi­nal­ist and is fresh from vic­tory against the pros in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory PGA Cham­pi­onship and he’s the early favourite for the Asia-Pa­cific Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship.

More so now, af­ter the Aus­tralians got the guided tour from half the New Zealand team: Welling­ton reps Daniel Hil­lier and Kerry Mount­cas­tle, along with Ryan Chis­nall, Mark Hut­son and Luke Brown.

‘‘We feel very for­tu­nate that they want to do that. By the same to­ken we have Golf Aus­tralia camps and events which these guys get ac­cess to,’’ Smyth said.

A year ago in In­cheon, South Korea, Aus­tralia went one-two with US Am­a­teur cham­pion Cur­tis Luck beat­ing com­pa­triot Brett Co­letta, with New Zealand’s Luke Toomey third in the 118-strong field.

This time the Aussies have four in the world’s top-40 while US-based Nick Voke (46) is the high­est-ranked New Zealan­der, with Chis­nall (82) and Hil­lier (98) the oth­ers in­side the top-100.

As host na­tion, New Zealand get 10 spots and their fa­mil­iar­ity with the course gives them a gen­er­ous leg-up.

With trans-Tas­man of­fi­cials hav­ing mapped the greens 11 months ago, be­fore the play­ers played at Here­taunga on Sun­day and Mon­day, the An­zacs will be the only ones with prior knowl­edge be­fore the field as­sem­bles for the Oc­to­ber 26-29 tour­na­ment. It’s the big show: run like a PGA Tour event and heav­ily backed by the Masters and Royal and An­cient Golf Club (who run the Open Cham­pi­onship).

‘‘This, the US Am­a­teur and the Bri­tish Am­a­teur are the three ma­jors of am­a­teur golf. We all feel like the Asia-Pa­cific is prob­a­bly our best chance of play­ing at The Masters,’’ Smyth said.

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Travis Smyth is the early favourite for the Asia-Pa­cific Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship at Royal Welling­ton.

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